A deeply troubling practice was brought to my attention this afternoon. I received a message from an individual who has participated in Private Arrangement Milk Sharing (PAMS), who has also made the decision to purchase milk through private channels. This individual disclosed to me that advice had been given on a site for purchasing breast milk about how to determine the safety of purchased milk.
An excerpt from the message:
“…[I was told] look for places doing research about breast milk stuff, because if I tell them I am ok for their studying I can send them a sample and they will tell me if there is anything dangerous with it because they have to check this for their research. If there is nothing wrong with it, I won’t hear anything from them.”
There are a few issues here of great concern. 1) breast milk research labs are NOT screening facilities, and may or may not screen milk in a way that would ensure its safety for infant consumption, 2) collection of samples may occur months before any analysis begins, thus there is no timely way of receiving feedback, 3) adulteration of research regarding breast milk by falsely representing a sample as your own potentially defeats the purpose of the research.
Firstly, research laboratories engaged in breast milk research are not (typically) milk banks, and the analysis of milk samples is not likely being done to ensure the chemical, bacterial, and viral safety of that milk for direct infant use. If, for instance, a lab is researching the levels of a prescription drug found in breast milk, they aren’t likely testing bacterial levels and types of bacteria in the milk.
Secondly, many laboratories run projects concurrently. While one project is in the final stages, collection is likely going on for the next project, knowing it will take several months to gather the needed samples, to process them in batches which limits the number of chances for things to be different between samples tested. If a milk sample is forced into this pool of potential samples, there is no guarantee that it will be analyzed before the milk is used and there is no reasonable timeline for waiting that can be concocted.
Lastly, research using breast milk is extremely important! By sending a milk sample that does not ACTUALLY meet inclusion criteria, that sample creates false results. In the instance of very costly work where few samples are analyzed, this can be a disaster for the research team, and the people who could have benefited from the accurate outcome of this research.
For information regarding the legal aspects of PAMS or even selling of breast milk – please read here.
It is not difficult to appreciate the complex nature of the decision to share or to purchase breast milk in the absence of sufficient milk from a parent. It is not an easy task to thoughtfully consider the resources available for how and where to screen sources and recipients of milk. I urge extreme caution and reflection of all participants regarding screening and safety considerations PRIOR to donating or acquiring milk through any private channel. Please respect the integrity of the work done at research institutions.